RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
Jenny Gold is a reporter with our partner, the nonprofit news service Kaiser Health News. And now we turn to a group of people who don't seek medical care enough - women, especially young women, who are having a heart attack. Women under the age of 55 are twice as likely as men to die after being hospitalized for a heart attack. And as Maanvi Singh reports, part of the problem is that women often don't realize what's happening.
MAANVI SINGH, BYLINE: Christina Constanzo was 32 when she had her first heart attack. It all started on a Friday.
CHRISTINA COSTANZO: I had chest pain. I had pain in my jaw. I had some shortness of breath.
SINGH: And even though Costanzo was a nurse practitioner, she didn't realize right away that this was her heart. She figured it was just her body reacting to stress, and she didn't want to overreact.
COSTANZO: I did not want to go to the emergency room, sit there for hours only to be sent home and told, you know, there was nothing wrong with me. So I just waited until Monday and saw my primary care.
SINGH: That's when she discovered that she had had a heart attack - a big one. Costanzo's story isn't unique. Studies show that women tend to wait much longer than men to get emergency care for heart attacks. And once they do go to the ER, their symptoms are often misdiagnosed. In a recent study, Judith Lichtman, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health, tried to figure out why. She interviewed 30 women, ages 30 to 55, who had been hospitalized after a heart attack. It turned out that many didn't really know what a heart attack felt like.
JUDITH LICHTMAN: We often see it portrayed as someone falling to their knees, holding on to their chest.
SINGH: In reality, along with some chest pain, most women tend to experience other symptoms.
LICHTMAN: Things like neck pain, jaw pain, indigestion, fatigue.
SINGH: Even when they suspected that they were having a heart attack, many women said that they were hesitant to bring it up.
LICHTMAN: Many of them said that they were concerned about being wrong or having a false alarm.
SINGH: And doctors often reinforced women's fears, automatically assuming that they were suffering from indigestion or maybe panic attack rather than a heart attack.
LICHTMAN: I think it is really critical to empower women to not feel any stigma or judgment
SINGH: And she says doctors should do a better job of listening and pay special attention to women who have high blood pressure or cholesterol or a family history of heart disease. For NPR News, I'm Maanvi Singh.
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